Laura Perrott Mahan
This past Saturday, Earth Day, people around the world took to the streets for the first ever March for Science. Signs from the events intermingled issues relating to Climate Change, clean water, availability of scientific data, and the importance of peer review for it. Many attendees hoisted posters high in the air that featured a cute little yellow figure known as The Lorax; Dr. Suess’s character who “speaks for the trees.”
To those who dedicated their lives to forest preservation in the early parts of the twentieth century, were they still alive, might balk that, over a century later, we have failed to find the balance between preservation and consumption of our natural resources.
President of the Women’s Save the Redwood’s League, Laura Mahan, knew that struggle all too well. Having grown up in the majestic Redwood forests of Northern California, she had an appreciation for not only their natural beauty and their contributions to a healthy environment but also understood that they are living legacies never to be replaced once lost. At the same time, she lived in a time and place where most of the towns and their residents, survival depended on the harvest of these magnificent beasts. That, in the early 1900’s, every woman living in these small towns, had a husband, father, son, or brother in the timber industry makes Laura Mahan and the Save the Redwood’s League’s conservation efforts all the more significant.
Under Ms. Mahan’s leadership, the group worked to save as many groves of ancient Redwood’s as possible, one of which being the famed Avenue of the Giants. They also protected Redwood forests within the city limits by turning them into local city parks. At times, their work was fueled by petitions and the lobbying of both local governments as well as Congress. In other instances, the women took action on the ground using their bodies to block the destruction of the forests. At times, the men they were defying were their friends, neighbors and even their families. In 1913, her group sent a letter through the newly formed National Park Service to Congress, in a petition that President Theodore Roosevelt might help them establish a National Redwood Park:
“Civilization demands that the natural wonders of the world be preserved for future generations to study and enjoy. The greatest of all natural wonders that make our country so interesting and attractive are the giant redwood trees of California, the greatest natural monuments of the Creator’s handiwork.” (Savetheredwoods.org)
With the help of Laura Mahan, among others, over 130,000 acres of redwoods are now protected in National and State Redwood Parks, of which approximately 40,000 acres are Old Growth. The forests, however, are still far from safe. Today, there are still people dedicating their lives, as Laura Mahan did, to the preservation of these ancient forests for the health of our planet and for the enjoyment of generations to come. To Laura and all those who continue to carry on her work, we say thank you.
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